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  • Cajun Zydeco Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana
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    Starting Point: New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Gorgeous gardens on the grounds of the new state capitol building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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    History and Heritage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

  • Scenic path leads to a plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana
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    Admiring Architecture in St. Francisville, Louisiana

  • The historic Epps House, relocated to the Louisiana State University campus in Alexandria-Pineville, Louisiana
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    Revisit the 18th Century in Alexandria and Pineville, Louisiana

  • Living history at  Fort St. Jean Baptiste in Natchitoches, Louisiana
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    Natchitoches, Louisiana: Distinctively, Definitively Historic

  • Mega resorts line the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana
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    Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana: Ripe for Sightseeing

  • The Texas-Arkansas stateline outside the Texarkana post office, which sits in two states
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    Historic Border Town of Texarkana, Arkansas

  • In Hope, Arkansas, the boyhood home for former U.S. President Bill Clinton
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    Hope, Arkansas: A Presidential Destination

  • Searching for gems at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas
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    Digging for Diamonds in Murfreesboro, Arkansas

  • Exploring along the row of historic bath houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas
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    Natural Wonders in Hot Springs, Arkansas

  • Pine Bluff, Arkansas, home of the Entertainers Hall of Fame
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    Pine Bluff, Arkansas: End With History on the Bayou

See the sites via streetcar in New Orleans, Louisiana
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Diamonds, Plantations, Bayous and Breweries: Gems of the Southeast

  • Route distance:
    1076.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Heritage and natural history in Louisiana and Arkansas

Jump from car to airboat to riverboat to carriage as you make your way through this wide-ranging road trip, which will catapult you through the cultural and natural heritage of Louisiana and Arkansas. Distinctly Southern and stunningly scenic, the bayous, springs, festivals and plantations in these two states bear the imprint of hundreds of years of cultural and geological change. Discover the attractions that make each destination unique.

01
Cajun Zydeco Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana
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Starting Point: New Orleans, Louisiana

As soon as you land at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport, you’ll realize that this city is unlike any other in the USA. It’s a kaleidoscope of food, music, architecture and celebrations that honor its distinct mélange of ethnic heritages, from Cajun and African American to Creole, European and Caribbean. Evidence of this melting pot surrounds you as you stroll from street to street and neighborhood to neighborhood: in the Gothic and Victorian-style buildings; in the wedding parties that fill Jackson Square; or in the quirky parades that meander slowly through the French Quarter. It can be tasted in unique dishes like the turtle soup at The Court of Two Sisters, or in the gumbo, beignets and jambalaya served at every corner restaurant. It can be heard in the sounds that spill from a hundred jazz clubs, blues joints and zydeco festivals, and seen on the specialty tours that let you explore topics like voodoo, antiquing and cemeteries. Before you head out of town, immerse yourself in New Orleans nature at spots like the Audubon Nature Institute or on a paddlewheel steamboat tour on the Mississippi River.

92 km
1 hour by car
02
Gorgeous gardens on the grounds of the new state capitol building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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History and Heritage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Louisiana’s capital city trends Cajun/Creole-cosmopolitan at its center, but is surrounded by sprawling historic plantations that offer a glimpse into the 18th century, and bayous filled with wildlife. Start in downtown Baton Rouge, where you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied, from the Shaw Center for the Arts, to the 400-plus restaurants, food trucks and farmers markets. Of course you should tour both the old and new capitol buildings: the Old Capitol features a museum inside a Gothic stunner overlooking the Mississippi River, while the new Capitol wows with a sky-high view of the city and gorgeous gardens. As you proceed toward Francisville, make a stop at one of the many graceful plantation houses along Route 61, or hit up Teddy’s Juke Joint, a real-deal haunt for alternating DJs and live music.

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50 km
1 hour by car
03
Scenic path leads to a plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana
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Admiring Architecture in St. Francisville, Louisiana

Architecture enthusiasts and nature lovers can both find something to admire in St. Francisville, home to plantations, a historic district and numerous outdoor pursuits. Start at the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum for an overview of the history of the parish, then try a walking tour of the churches, private homes, Georgian Revival courthouse, restaurants and shops downtown. Note the Gothic stylings of Grace Episcopal Church and the traditional cottage structure of many of the district’s houses. When you’ve had enough of the city, hike or bike the green areas of the parish, or try bird-watching on Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge. It’ll help you burn off some energy before you get back in the car and continue north to the Alexandria and Pineville area.

158 km
2 hours by car
04
The historic Epps House, relocated to the Louisiana State University campus in Alexandria-Pineville, Louisiana
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Revisit the 18th Century in Alexandria and Pineville, Louisiana

The two sides of early Louisiana society are evident in Alexandria and Pineville: the splendor of wealthy plantation dwellers, and the Spartan circumstances of poor Creole farmers. Kent House, a beautiful French colonial-style plantation that dates back to 1796, offers a glimpse of the French, Spanish and American cultures that influenced Louisiana. On the other side of town you can visit Epps House, an 1852 Creole cottage that was built in part by Solomon Northup, a kidnapped free man whose story was told in the 2013 film “12 Years a Slave.” On your way out of Alexandria, get an eyeful of Louisiana and Southern art at the Alexandria Museum of Art. Then continue up Interstate 49 to one of the oldest places in Louisiana.

93 km
1 hour by car
05
Living history at  Fort St. Jean Baptiste in Natchitoches, Louisiana
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Natchitoches, Louisiana: Distinctively, Definitively Historic

As you enter Natchitoches (pronounced “nack-a-tish”), it might not seem extraordinary, but it is in fact Louisiana’s oldest settlement, dating back to 1714. If you look closely, you can see that it has a distinct European flavor, owing to its founding during the days when Louisiana was still part of France. Tour the extensive National Historic District by horse-drawn carriage, and make stops at the general store and cemetery. Other early sites include plantation houses and Fort St. Jean Baptiste, which tells of Natchitoches’ beginnings. In winter, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival illuminates the city, and in warmer months, watch the sun set over the Red River as you head out of town.

121 km
1 hour by car
06
Mega resorts line the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana
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Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana: Ripe for Sightseeing

Follow the Red River right into the restaurants, cruises and entertainment that are hallmarks of Shreveport and Bossier. Most of the action is centered on the water, where six riverboat casinos offer Las Vegas-style entertainment, nightclubs, bars and live music. On land you can shop til you drop at the Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets, or dine and drink at one of the many craft brew pubs and eateries specializing in Shreveport-style stuffed shrimp. Outdoor activities including golf, fishing and zip lining are also popular, earning Shreveport a reputation as a sportsman’s destination. But the abundance of ways to entertain yourself does not mean there’s nothing of historic or artistic value in town – before you head toward Arkansas, take a drive through the historic downtown. Keep an eye out for statues of blues legend Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter and Elvis Presley, and the “Once in a Millennium Moon” mural.

116 km
1 hour by car
07
The Texas-Arkansas stateline outside the Texarkana post office, which sits in two states
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Historic Border Town of Texarkana, Arkansas

The quirky town border town of Texarkana, Arkansas blends seamlessly with its twin, Texarkana, Texas, and is imbued with the flavors, sounds and history of both states. Ragtime music has roots here: Acclaimed composer Scott Joplin was a Texarkana native and there’s a mural on the Texas side of downtown that celebrates him. Just a few blocks away is a remnant of the city’s colorful past, the Ace of Clubs House. This 1885 Italianate Victorian home built in the shape of a club was, according to legend, financed by a winning poker hand. The Arkansas Municipal Auditorium, which once hosted Elvis, Johnny Cash and Mae West, may no longer be around, but the restored 1924-era Perot Theatre is worth visiting. Of course before you leave you’ll need to walk the Arkansas-Texas divide along State Line Avenue, and behold the only post office that sits in two states. It’s even equitably made from both Texas granite and Arkansas limestone. Plant your feet back on the Arkansas side and start your journey to the birthplace of a very famous American.

55 km
1 hour by car
08
In Hope, Arkansas, the boyhood home for former U.S. President Bill Clinton
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Hope, Arkansas: A Presidential Destination

Hope was nothing more than a nondescript southern town until Bill Clinton became the governor of Arkansas, then the 42nd president of the United States. Hope, his birthplace, instantly earned its place on the map. You can tour the house where he was born and view supporting exhibits in the adjacent visitor center. If you want to learn more about the former President, you’ll need to take a detour to the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas. If you’re not interested in Clintonia, move on to Murfreesboro, and make sure to bring a shovel.

55 km
1 hour by car
09
Searching for gems at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas
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Digging for Diamonds in Murfreesboro, Arkansas

Arkansas is alternately referred to as The Natural State and The Diamond State because of attractions like Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro’s main claim to fame. It’s the only place in the U.S. where you can dig for – and keep – any diamonds you find. This eroded crater yielded its first find in 1906 and is still turning out sparklers today. You have to admit that there’s something enticing about the concept: For less than $10 (plus a bit extra to rent digging tools), you can go into the search area, and potentially come out a few hours later with something worth much more than the price of admission. If you come up empty- handed, no worries – soothe your aching muscles in Hot Springs, the next stop on the itinerary.

66 km
1 hour by car
10
Exploring along the row of historic bath houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas
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Natural Wonders in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Despite its name, the hot springs are not the only attraction in this central Arkansas town, which is an all-around great place for a relaxing getaway filled with food, fun and history. An ideal itinerary starts in the Central Avenue historic district, where it’s easy to park and walk to places like the Gangster Museum of America, which tells of Hot Springs’ rowdiest era, and to legendary pubs like The Ohio Club. Make an appointment at any of the bathhouses along Central Avenue, which are fed by waters bubbling up from the natural springs deep in the earth below. In the middle of it all sits the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center, repurposed from the gorgeous, and thoroughly preserved, Fordyce Bathhouse. Learn about the springs and baths here before heading out of town into the park, where hiking trails lead to mountain vistas and the fall foliage is not to be missed. On your way to your last destination, stop at Garvan Woodland Gardens for a well-curated series of landscapes, including a wildflower overlook along Lake Hamilton.

90 km
1 hour by car
11
Pine Bluff, Arkansas, home of the Entertainers Hall of Fame
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Pine Bluff, Arkansas: End With History on the Bayou

The final stop on your journey is a place that evokes the era of cotton plantations, steam railroads and the Civil War. In the heart of downtown Pine Bluff, murals illustrate the town’s past, 19th century homes line the streets, and a Confederate monument sits near the town courthouse. The Arkansas Railroad Museum offers a peek at Steam Locomotive 819, built onsite in 1942 when the museum was a machine shop. Nearby, the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum explores the town’s ties to the cotton trade and role in the war. For something a little different, learn about the bottomland ecology of Arkansas’ waterways at the Delta Rivers Nature Center, where you can see displays and take short walks through bayou, lake and prairie habitats. For a deeper immersion in nature, rent a kayak and enjoy the easy trail at Cane Creek State Park for a last bit of tranquility before heading home from Little Rock, Arkansas’ Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport or Memphis International Airport in Tennessee.